Familiar faces make this a small, big town

City Diary

August 07, 2002|By RICH DUBROFF

PERHAPS you saw me this morning. Maybe it wasn't the first time. Nearly every morning, I'm out walking up and down Charles Street. I leave my house in Bolton Hill with my wife at about 7:45, and I'm off.

I've been doing this for quite some time, so after a few months, the faces begin to look familiar. I've lived in Baltimore and in Bolton Hill for 22 years, and upon my arrival, I was always told what a small, big town this is. And now I'm finally starting to believe it.

As I walk down Mount Royal, there's usually the friendly, petite redhead who works at the Maryland Institute. She invariably smiles and says good morning.

There's a woman who lives downtown and works a few blocks away, near the end of the first half of my walk on Charles and Lombard. She walks with a pronounced limp and also has a warm smile and greeting.

I don't know any of their names, or where they're from, and usually I can only guess at what they do.

My hour-long morning walk is a way of getting exercise, to be sure, but also a way to get my mind working. I used to think about my father a lot on these walks, but he's been dead for more than three years, and more and more I think about what I'd like to try to accomplish each day.

Along the way, there are a few friendly people, and some who, after they see you a few times, start to recognize you. There's the man with the goatee, probably an optometrist. There's the woman with the slight Southern accent, who when asked how she's doing, usually says, "Hanging in there."

And, then there are the characters: the woman who walks briskly up Charles Street, stopping at the newspaper machine to buy her New York Times, laughing, barking and sometimes crowing.

There's Briefcase Boy. When I'm on my way home, he walks south on Charles carrying the type of briefcase the nerds brought to school 35 years ago. There's nothing remarkable about him, except for the briefcase and his sunglasses. Perhaps he works for the CIA; more likely, he's a software engineer.

I see another woman who usually wears a hat or a brightly colored hair scrunchy. Overdressed for warm weather, smoking little cigars, she avoids eye contact.

Another individual, whom I see as I begin my walk, also avoids eye contact. It took me several weeks to figure out this person was female -- her head is shaved, and she carries a backpack as she inspects the scenery on Mount Royal.

There are a couple of people I could do without. The aggressive panhandling woman, who sits on the corner of Charles and Mulberry drinking Pepsis and munching potato chips; and the dirty man who looks like Charles Manson as he parades the blocks near Charles Center. But they don't stop me from enjoying my walk.

I know the name and occupation of only one of the people I pass.

Joseph lives in a rooming house on Preston Street and quickly walks down Charles as I near the end of the walk. A slight man, he wears a "Vietnam Veteran" cap and a uniform from the Brookshire Hotel that says "Joseph." One day, I was walking on Lombard Street, and there he was, working in front of the hotel. "Man, you get around," he said.

I mark my halfway point by stopping for a moment and buying a Sun and USA Today from the older man with a ponytail and a cigarette dangling from his lips. "Thanks a million," he often says. That brings a smile to me because that was one of the favorite expressions of my father-in-law, who died less than two months ago, and who was another one of my favorite characters.

Last week, a taxi driver whom I've known for years stopped me. He wanted to catch up, and I made an exception to my no-stopping rule. (Of course, I stop at red lights.) The corner with the longest light is that Charles and Mulberry one. The most dangerous corner is at Saratoga Street in front of Kinko's. Drivers make sharp turns and pedestrians must be extremely careful.

I've seen plenty of noted people on my walks down Charles Street: Peter Angelos, Syd Thrift, Cal Ripken, Mayors Schmoke and O'Malley, Cardinal Keeler.

But it's the people without names who stand out.

Today's writer

Rich Dubroff was for many years the executive producer of the public television series Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser until its demise in March. A media trainer and consultant and a free-lance writer, mostly of sports, he lives in Baltimore City.

City Diary provides a forum for examining issues and events in Baltimore's neighborhoods and welcomes contributions from readers.

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